Monday 25 March 2013

Of Visions and Vision statements

Controlling for meaningful results versus navigating for sustainability, this epitomises the conundrum that most organisations are embroiled in, quite often without knowing it. It is interesting as individuals and organisations constantly face this question, do they do what is important to survive or do they chart their own course on ambitious and worthy goals, by defining their vision and committing to achieving those. Quite often these two are seen interchangeably, whereas in reality while they maybe in action simultaneously but they are different paradigms and often require a different focus. Organisations mostly want to work from the paradigm of controlling for meaningful results. But often they end up with the desire to grow, to maximise growth and meet targets set therein, quietly sliding into the navigating for sustainability mode with the meaningful impact left at the mercy of the inevitable trickle-down effect.
This happens as the dynamic internal and external environments they end up dealing with, involve a number of controllable, partially controllable and uncontrollable variables; a number of which were not factored, partially or wholly factored in their plans. Inevitably it results in a hugely complex operation, where most people lose sight of what they want to achieve and why; by this time the organisational entity has grown to a certain size and with people dependent on its survival, before you know it this becomes a struggle for survival and a vehicle to meet targets in terms of what aligns most people’s interest, personal gains in economic and status terms.  Something which translates into vision statements of creating value (read wealth), being number one/most respected in the industry (status), or have everyone hold their product or avail their service (egocentrism), etc.
Most organisations thereafter struggle to develop and commit to a true vision, many of them embark on an envisioning exercise to meet up with business norms; to others it is sold by external consultants with a promise to align employee interest and action.  Even most leadership programmes and strategic planning workshops end up giving people the same message that great leaders and great organisations are driven by great visions, so people driven to make such leaders or companies are searching for the great vision that will put them on the path to greatness and eventually enable them to be such.
Generally there are consultants, think tanks and focus groups that are given the task to come up with something worthy that would appear to provide a company/organisation with the overarching vision that the management wishes to promulgate in their attempt to inspire the employee population to give their best for generating sales, profit, growth and goodwill.
The reality ofcourse is that a true vision is what we would like the future to be and what role we would like to play in its creation, whereas quite often it takes on the shape of what we think the vision should be so that people feel strongly about driving growth, profitability and goodwill. The goal is not the vision, and sales, profitability and goodwill are not enablers, but rather the other way around. The vision is seen as a tool to drive growth and profitability.
There is a fundamental mismatch, which is often ignored by planners, organisations' management for their own detriment and for that of society. The reason that drives the larger swathe of employees to turn up for work and towards achievement is within the realm of personal gain, it is the money that allows them to secure and look after their families, it is the status that allows them to feel secure and adequate amongst their peers, it the achievement that brings them fame and glory and gives them the hope of being immortalised in the annals of history and thus provides them the psychological positive regard that the mind seeks. Most often vision planners choose to see these differently and ignore the importance of this reality and its integral relevance to the vision and chances of its success.
Most often visions are created too far after the vehicle aimed at achieving the vision is created. Which is ironical for the raison d’ĂȘtre would usually be expected to precede the ‘being’, of course notwithstanding and giving due to the fact that it might take time in identifying and articulating the vision explicitly and the need to do so.
But the reality is that the vision is not seen as the raison d’etre but rather a tool aimed to be used by management to secure commitment and generate loyalty and to instill pride amongst the people who work for entity in question.
Most visions are either please-all statements, or they are simple goals statements recast in a language that makes them sound more than they are. Vision statements are often about what companies want to become rather than a future they want to contribute to create, an inspiring future. Ofcourse goes without saying, if that is the case chances are that it either hangs somewhere adorning office walls where almost everyone, except perhaps first time visitors, don’t even register its presence; or it only finds mention only in financial and other company documents, often glazed over without any time or attention accorded to it.
It is often stated that the Vision needs to be owned by the employees, vision is not something one owns and discards as desired by others, it is an extremely personal view that stems from beliefs in relation to a worthy overarching goal or aspiration relating to what you want the world to be. We need for every person and organisation to create a compelling vision for the world, wherein we derive the vision for the organisation and for self from there.
A great deal about vision and such statements was presented in the book ‘Built to Last’ and the understanding of James Collins, Jerry Porras expressed in the HBR article Building your companies vision in 2007. They have provided great ideas, examples and a framework for the business world elucidating the importance of powerful visions, the creation of it and developing statements that attempt to capture it. Core Values, Ideologies, Envisioned Future, BHAG (Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goals), Vivid description form part of that framework and give further understanding of its components and requirements.
Ofcourse as time goes by, and our understanding of the world shifts we need to keep working with our vision, embedding new learning in order to keep up with emergent developing perspectives.
For the moment ask yourselves this, is your company/organisation one of the many, which has owing to the successful advocacy for the importance of having a vision as a key component of successful companies or as default management practice, prescribed and put in print what is approved as a vision statement (particularly driven by top management)? Or are you in a company that has a future defined in detail and that picture depicts an improved world that you feel compelled towards creating?

Sunday 10 March 2013

TVET: What's in a name? Thoughts on Vocational Education.

Given the challenges TVET (Technical, Vocational Education and Training) is facing across countries there has been a very high degree of focus around it in both developing and developed contexts. There is a direct correlation being drawn to the importance of TVET and employability. The jobs and employment agenda has been on the forefront even more so since the financial crisis broke out more than six years ago, and that it impacts not only growth within the economy but it is also where agendas of the individual, the private sector and the public sector coincides at least in basic principle.
While we will look at issues that surround this in greater detail over a period of time and highlight different perspectives and practices, we will also aim to uncover insight that may have become obscure within the myriad views and accompanying cacophonies that crowd this space.
At the outset what I would like to focus on is the very terminology that is often questioned for its meaning and effect, Vocational Education. It is often the contention of experts that vocational education is not appealing and often has a poor image and low social perception, which results in poor uptake and lack of prioritisation amongst stakeholders.  It was a key point I remember from the times we tried to highlight this to white collar policy makers, educationists and industrialists; we asked them that whom would they rather see their daughter marry, a corporate sales executive or a plumber? Followed by 'would they be happy seeing their daughter marry a plumber'? No points for guessing what their answer was, even though in some countries the plumber might make more money than the sales executive and  a lot of other professions. Also to bear in mind that if the definition of vocational education is career related trade skills, incumbents of both occupations have perhaps partaken therein.  So maybe we need to consider whether it is the profession itself or the strata of society that traditionally worked such jobs that lend itself to low social perception. Perhaps the deeper issue revolves around dignity of labour.
A lot of people suggest that we should perhaps use a different term instead of TVET to give it more respectability and get rid of legacy effects of the terms.  I ofcourse think this has to be more strategic than merely playing around with terminology. I think the very chasm between general education and vocational education will need to be bridged for people to realise that both are integral to each other and our objective is holistic education. The failings of general education to be relevant, effective and practical have caused the emergence of this distinction. While some may see TVET as specialised focus on trade related skills, my contention is that language, mathematics, ICT, economics, perspective, etc. are all integral to careers, vocational education and skills attainment.
In some places TVET is under the garb of Further education, it is ingenious how we use that to differentiate it from higher education!  So what is the aim of higher education? Even if it is to lead into teaching and research isn't that vocational (for occupational purposes), for if it is not then it is not practical and therefore not usable.
Just because we choose to draw a distinction and it serves experts in these areas to keep it so, doesn't mean it needs to be seen as a separate part while deploying it through the educational system. If the only part we plan to call TVET or its substitutes are trade specific skills the that should be seen as specialisations and should be again broken down into grade relevant skills with core mandatory requirements and electives. Higher level skills should be integrated with higher education frameworks. These are generally achieved through qualification frameworks and their linkages to existing general education and higher education systems. There is just no reason for these to be separate at all. I think in time the education system has to integrate and rise above the vested interests of experts who want these to be seen differently.
We just have started to see vocational education as an alternative because our general education system is failing, for vocational education to succeed we have to make the existing general education system effective as well. This is because the very foundational skills required for successful careers to be built upon are intended outcomes of the general education stream. We need to constantly review our education systems and be willing to do that in its entire construct too rather than merely piecemeal.
At the moment India is going down the path of attempting to define vocational education frameworks and not one but two, lead by two different government ministries. The Prime Minister has now intervened to bring these two warring ministries together on some sort of a consensus, but this is exactly the way vested interests driven agendas play out and what we need to be wary of. Turf issues are not going to help resolve this educational dilemma. In a country where the educational system is falling severely short of credibility and effectiveness, there is no reason to expect greater success in the creation of a parallel system that will perhaps take more effort, expertise and control than even fixing the current system of education.  So on what do the apologists of this supposedly new (re-framed) class of education predicate the success of this system; I’d be very interested in knowing. 

Friday 1 March 2013

Education - A CAS (complex adaptive system) View

As a country and perhaps even the wider society we continue to grapple with issues around education and its role in preparing the citizenry for optimal participation in society, maintaining and progressing its existence, values and institutions.
Some of these value objectives revolve around longevity, good health and dignity of humans as individuals and as members of a larger collective. Human behaviour seemed to gain importance as a key variable in the achievement of the above stated objectives, as people realised that other peoples actions initially as individuals and later as aggregated agents could affect others' existence, state of wellbeing, physical and psychological states.
In our endeavour to deconstruct what model behaviour and rules of existence protected the interests of the majority we began to identify, study and analyse the impact of variables in the environment and of individual –aggregated-environmental interactions. This subsequently got recognised as a complex adaptive system.
While this produced information around many subroutines that comprised actions influencing behaviour to produce outcomes conducive to the final objectives of longevity, happiness and sustainability of mankind, the perpetual novelty of the changes effected by these actions constantly evolve these subroutines. Thus introducing uncertainty into the model for us to never be sure about what to expect.
In order to ensure that our future generations and others align to our understanding of near optimal subroutines we aim to design education systems to support our objectives. Ofcourse as individuals sit in different seats and experience our world and interaction therein differently, we mostly hold divergent views of the world and on what ideal education and optimal delivery methodologies for it are.
There is logically no basis for us to agree on whose view is right or ideal as the boundary conditions for those views and the variables within keep changing. Generally when the majority agree and find favour within power structures to shape and move education into a certain direction it moves, but never quite in a uniform way predictable across time or for outcomes. Therefore a number of subroutines are always in play in varying degrees of thrust and in different directions because of which a large scale educational system set on standardization is self-defeating.
The very nature of complex adaptive system and the attempt to define ideal education systems, objectives and practices therein has had us uncover an ever-increasing array of dynamic variables and their related dynamic interactions, causing us to get an ever increasing complex view of it and therefore of education management. We hope to be able to identify subroutines that hold good for a period of time when steady states or optima prevail or can be created therefore. This is to hopefully give ourselves a better chance to adjust to subsequent changes by understanding the cause-effect of changes in relevant variables and thus manage to keep the changes fairly aligned towards achievement of objectives for as long as is possible. All this while being aware that sand is slipping by through the hands all the time as our very efforts to preserve the order are agents that are the cause of prevailing and ensuing chaos.